February 17, 2010

Flower Show Fever

It was about noon yesterday afternoon that I realized I’m getting too old for this stuff. But then Paul yelled over to me and asked if I could give a hand pulling out a birch tree by its root ball. Of course I helped. And then I pulled out two more birches. After that, I moved rocks for an hour.

At least I got a neat tee shirt and some great pizza for my efforts. Oh, and a top-drawer horticultural design seminar.

The Boston Flower & Garden Show you’ll see walking through the Seaport World Trade Center next month will be the product of a lot of very talented people channeling their knowledge of horticulture and landscape design into a few hundred square feet of eye-pleasing color and form. Assisting that talent are the efforts of several hundred people who, over the course of three or four days, physically assemble those exhibits under the watchful eye of the designer.

For the past four years, I’ve been part of crews that help build exhibits. My aching back and I are here to tell you that what looks so effortless when you admire a flower show from the aisles is anything but. It starts with a literal mountain of mulch and a stone or wooden frame (called a kickboard) that holds the mulch in place. Then, in go trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, rocks, water and whatever else the exhibit’s designer chooses to throw in.

Some exhibits are carefully designed months in advance with every tulip pre-positioned. But the best exhibits, in my opinion, are just ideas in the mind of the designer until he or she arrives at the flower show site with truckloads of plants. Designers start in December or January with a greenhouse full of material to be forced into leaf or bloom. In the week or so before the material is to be moved, the exhibitor goes through the greenhouse, looking to see which plants performed best. Those plants get loaded onto a heated truck and become the focal points of the exhibit. They’re augmented by hundreds of annuals and perennials supplied by professional growers.

Landscaper Paul Miskovsky has exhibits this year at both the Rhode Island Flower Show, where I worked this week, and at the Boston Flower & Garden Show in March. He invites in friends, Master Gardeners, landscape students and even customers to help with the ‘build’, as the crash three- or four-day construction event is called. Along the way, he provides, in addition to the tee shirts and pizza, a horticultural education.

Paul also reserves the right to change his mind about things as the build progresses. When they were in the greenhouse, those three clump birches looked like they’d be in full leaf by the time the show opened. They were installed on the first day on the forks of a Bobcat. As things went in around them, their scant leaf coverage began to annoy Paul. Yesterday, the annoyance level reached full boil and the birches were yanked out by their two-hundred-pound root balls… by hand in order not to disturb completed parts of the exhibit In their place went in six huge pots of bamboo. The graceful bamboo in turn caused a dozen leucothoe to be rearranged which meant half a dozen hosta were left homeless awaiting reassignment.

At 900 square feet, Paul’s ‘palette’ in Rhode Island show is large by that show’s standard. For the Boston Flower and Garden Show, he expands to 1,080 square feet - 20% more space. He’ll also oversee the building of a 600 square foot exhibit for the Heritage Museum and Gardens and a 240 square foot parcel for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

If I can find a few free hours, I’ll pitch in building the Boston exhibit. Most of my time, however, is already spoken for. But more about that later.

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